The best wine books of 2023 make great gifts, too

The 2023 vintage was very good for books about wine. Here are my recommendations for your holiday gift giving and personal reading. Two path-breaking wine guides are hefty, in size as well as price, but they are worthy references for all wine lovers. And we have a memoir for all of us who have ever dreamed of starting over as a winemaker.

“The World in a Wineglass: The Insider’s Guide to Artisanal, Sustainable, Extraordinary Wines to Drink Now”

By Ray Isle (Scribner, $50)

Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine and a frequent “Today” show guest, gives us a brilliant and timely twist on the traditional wine guide. The title almost says it all: Isle is writing for those of us who care more about how wine is made than how much it costs, who prefer wines made by family artisans over those from large corporations. He opens the book with the best discussion I’ve ever read about why we should favor wineries that care about the environment, including a clear and concise description of the advantages and limitations of sustainable, organic, biodynamic and regenerative certifications. This no-nonsense, non-polemic view extends to natural wines as well. The bulk of the book (and at more than 700 pages, bulk is the word) contains brief profiles of wineries that live up to these ideals, with an emphasis on Europe and the U.S. West Coast. Isle proves a genial tour guide as he introduces us to these artisans and their stories.

The best wine books of 2022 get up close and personal

“The New French Wine: Redefining the World’s Greatest Wine Culture”

By Jon Bonné (Ten Speed Press, $135 list price)

Did I say bulk? Jon Bonné’s latest book is a two-volume magnum opus by the author of “The New California Wine” and former wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Most wine books about France start at the top — Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne — and work down through the hierarchy of the appellation system. In Bonné’s telling, that system, created a century ago to fight fraud and guarantee authenticity, calcified over time into a bureaucracy that favors large producers and discourages innovation by enforcing an arbitrary ideal of how wine should be made and how it should taste. Bonné pierces the mythology of the appellation system, even as his favored rebel winemakers respect it. In the second volume, Bonné celebrates the iconoclastic vignerons who chafe at the system and fight for their individual expressions of wine and place. This set should thrill fans of natural wine and fuel many a vinous debate over the nature of terroir and the strictures of convention.

Turning from massive guides to easier reading, we have a thought-provoking memoir.

“Climbing the Vines in Burgundy: How an American Came to Own a Legendary Vineyard in France”

By Alex Gambal (Hamilton Books, $25)

This is a must-read for anyone who has ever wanted to chuck the office for a vineyard, especially if that dream involves moving to France. Alex Gambal was working for the family business in D.C. (his father co-founded Colonial Parking) in the 1980s when he discovered his love of wine through tastings at Mayflower Wines and Spirits with the store’s owner, Sidney Moore, and her son, Harry. In this respect Gambal is like many a Washington wine lover of that generation, myself included, who were influenced by Sidney Moore and her store. In 1993, Gambal moved his young family to France, where he worked for another wine legend, Becky Wasserman, helping her export fine Burgundies to the United States. The wine bug bit even harder, and in 1997, he founded Maison Alex Gambal, making wine from grapes he purchased from other winemakers. He gained a following and eventually, despite Burgundy’s legendary insularity, bought a total of 30 acres of vines — small lots of a few rows scattered over several prime vineyards throughout the region. He sold the business in 2019 to Famille Boisset, a major Burgundy house.

Gambal clearly loves the country and its people, but his memoir is no romanticized Peter Mayle-style fantasy of life in France. He gives us a no-nonsense view of what it’s like to butt up against an intractable bureaucracy, and like many winemakers who dream of “returning to the land,” he discovered that much of the work involves returning to the cities to sell his wine. We get an insider’s look at the convoluted three-tier distribution system in this country and a clearer understanding of why fine wine costs so much. (Hint: Most of the money you spend never gets to the producer.) He doesn’t rail against the bureaucracy or the system but points out the foibles, inconsistencies and inequities with a wry sense of resignation and humor. Sometimes, achieving our dreams requires putting up with a lot of things that don’t make sense.

Some honorable mentions: The fifth edition of the “Oxford Companion to Wine” (Oxford University Press, $65) is a major revamp of this essential reference. Jancis Robinson has turned lead editorial duties over to Julia Harding, with help from Tara Q. Thomas. There are also several new contributors, including myself — I wrote the Virginia entry.

Bordeaux lovers will enjoy “From Bordeaux to the Stars: The Reawakening of a Wine Legend” by Jean-Michel Cazes, translated by Jane Anson. (Academie du Vin Library, $48). Cazes, who passed away earlier this year, was the celebrated owner of Château Lynch-Bages and gives us an insider view of how Cazes helped resuscitate the region’s image in the 1980s and built his winery into a “super second” growth with a reputation of being one of Bordeaux’s best.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *